AUSTIN (Texas): Law enforcement personnel detain a pro-Palestinian protester at the University of Texas in Austin. Over 200 people have been arrested as protests against Israel’s invasion of Gaza spread to more than a dozen campuses in the United States on Thursday.—Reuters
AUSTIN (Texas): Law enforcement personnel detain a pro-Palestinian protester at the University of Texas in Austin. Over 200 people have been arrested as protests against Israel’s invasion of Gaza spread to more than a dozen campuses in the United States on Thursday.—Reuters

LOS ANGELES: Pro-Palestinian protests spread to more college campuses in the United States on Thursday as authorities appeared to be running out of patience and police carried out large-scale arrests.

Students at some of the country’s most prestigious universities have staged occupations over the growing human toll of Israel’s aggression in Gaza. Sit-ins and boisterous demonstrations, including a new one that sprung up at the University of California, Los Angeles, are calling for colleges to sever ties with Israel and with companies they say profit from the conflict.

“For 201 days, the world has watched in silence as Israel has murdered over 30,000 Palestinians,” said a message posted online by organisers of the UCLA protest.

“Today, UCLA joins students across the country in demanding that our universities divest from the companies which profit off of the occupation, apartheid and genocide in Palestine.” More than 200 protesters were arrested on Wednesday and early Thursday at universities in Los Angeles, Boston and Austin, Texas, where a fresh rally was scheduled for midday.

Over 200 protesters arrested at universi­ties in Los Angeles, Boston and Austin

Photographs and video from Emory College in Atlanta showed police wrestling with protestors on neatly manicured lawns. The spreading protests began at Columbia University in New York, where a midnight deadline was approaching for students to remove an encampment that has become the epicentre of the movement.

Visiting the campus on Wednes­day, top Republican leader House Speaker Mike Johnson condemned the nature of the protests and suggested it could be necessary to bring in the National Guard — a controversial statement in a country that saw Guardsmen shoot and kill protesters at Kent State University in 1970.

Arrests and campus closures

The protests pose a major challenge to university administrators who are trying to balance campus commitments to free expression amid complaints that the rallies have crossed a line.

Student protesters say they are expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, where the death toll has topped 34,305, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Demonstrators, including a number of Jewish students, have disavowed instances of anti-Semitism and criticised officials equating it with opposition to Israel.

Demonstrations also flared at the University of Southern California’s (USC) Los Ange­les campus, where 93 people were arrested for trespassing on Wednesday and at the Uni­versity of Texas (UT) in Austin, where 34 were arrested, according to authorities.

USC said on social media site X at around midnight that the protest had ended and the campus would remain “closed until further notice.” “Students, faculty, staff and people with business on campus may enter with proper identification,” the university said.

Los Angeles police officers went to the campus on Wednesday afternoon and “assisted the university in effecting trespass arrests” when protesters refused to leave, Captain Kelly Muniz told reporters. The LAPD said there were no reports of injuries and patrols would remain in the area on Thursday.

At Emerson College in Boston, local media reported that classes were cancelled on Thursday after police clashed with protesters around 2am, tearing down a pro-Palestinian encampment and arresting 108 people.

Coast to coast

In Washington, students from Georgetown and George Washington University (GW) established their own solidarity encampment on the GW campus on Thursday morning, the Georgetown Voice student publication reported, with a walkout planned at Georgetown.

Protests and encampments have sprung up at universities from coast to coast, including at New York University and Yale — both of which also saw dozens of students arrested earlier this week — Harvard, Brown University, MIT, the University of Michigan and elsewhere.

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden denounced “blatant anti-Semitism” that has “no place on college campuses.” But the White House has also said that the president supports freedom of expression at US universities.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2024

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